Friday, 8 October 2021

Review: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, "These are the hands that buried my mother."

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

📌 Publication date: 22/03/2021
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A book about a magical tea brewing competition, inspired by Chinese history and mythology? Yes, please! 

People are being poisoned by tea, it took Ning's mum's life and now her sister is sick. Determined to save her she travels to the imperial city to enter the magical tea brewing competition. The reason being because the winner will be granted a favour from the princess. Having a sister I'm close to I found Ning's loyalty and willingness to do anything for her sister relatable. 

Once Ning arrives at the imperial city she is faced with court politics and prejudices. Despite this she rallies on and even makes a friend. Which brings me to my next point. Female friendships are sometimes lacking in the the books I read, so it was refreshing reading about Ning making a friend, as opposed to facing off with a mean girl.  

The world building in A Magic Steeped in Poison is great for people who are new to the fantasy genre, because there's no info dumping. Instead the information is woven naturally throughout the story. As a tea lover I loved learning about the art of tea brewing, and I enjoyed the vivid picture she painted of the world.

I'm curious to see how the story concludes in the sequel. 


Friday, 3 September 2021

Review: Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix

In the Old Kingdom, a land of ancient and often terrible magics, eighteen year-old orphan Terciel learns the art of necromancy from his great-aunt Tizanael. But not to raise the Dead, rather to lay them to rest. He is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and Tizanael is the Abhorsen, the latest in a long line of people whose task it is to make sure the Dead do not return to Life.

Across the Wall in Ancelstierre, a steam-age country where magic usually does not work, nineteen year-old Elinor lives a secluded life. Her only friends an old governess and an even older groom who was once a famous circus performer. Her mother is a tyrant, who is feared by all despite her sickness and impending death . . . but perhaps there is even more to fear from that.

Elinor does not know she is deeply connected to the Old Kingdom, nor that magic can sometimes come across the Wall, until a plot by an ancient enemy of the Abhorsens brings Terciel and Tizanael to Ancelstierre. In a single day of fire and death and loss, Elinor finds herself set on a path which will take her into the Old Kingdom, into Terciel’s life, and will embroil her in the struggle of the Abhorsens against the Dead who will not stay dead.

📌 Publication date: 02/11/2021
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Sabriel was one of the first YA fantasy books I read. I read it so long ago that I can't remember a lot about the plot, but I do recall really enjoying it. Terciel & Elinor is the prequel and it centers around Sabriel's parents. It gave me old school YA fantasy vibes, and I found it to be equally enjoyable. 

Terciel & Elinor is essentially about two awkward teens trying to find themselves and their place in the world. Both are easy to root for as they find themselves facing down an enemy, who will be familiar to those that have read Sabriel. It also features the ever mischievous, Mogget!

While it didn't blow me away, it was still a comforting read. Perfect for autumn/winter. 


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Review: The Color of Dragons by R.A. Salvatore & Erika Lewis

Magic needs a spark.

And Maggie’s powers are especially fickle. With no one to help her learn to control her magic, the life debt that she owes stretches eternally over her head, with no way to repay it.

Until she meets Griffin, the king’s champion infamous for hunting down the draignochs that plague their kingdom.

Neither has any idea of the destiny that they both carry, or that their meeting will set off a chain of events that will alter every aspect of the life they know—and all of history thereafter.

📌 Publication date: 19/10/2021
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Described as a "romantic pre-Arthurian tale of the origins of magic and Merlin" The Color of Dragons was a quick and easy read. 

The book alternates between Maggie and Griffin's point of view. Maggie was a bit of a frustrating character. We're told she has street smarts, but throughout the the book she just throws herself recklessly into situations without thinking. Griffin was Maggie's opposite, complementing her perfectly. 

The world building was enough for me to get a general picture of the land. Plus, the magical ability Maggie had that was tied to the moon was interesting. However, if you're reading this for the dragons I personally found it a bit underwhelming in that aspect.  

While The Color of Dragons doesn't bring anything new to the YA fantasy genre, I found it to be a fun, if not forgettable read. 



Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Review: Witchshadow by Susan Dennard

War has come to the Witchlands . . . and nothing will be the same again.

Iseult has found her heartsister Safi at last, but their reunion is brief. For Iseult to stay alive, she must flee Cartorra while Safi remains. And though Iseult has plans to save her friend, they will require her to summon magic more dangerous than anything she has ever faced before.

Meanwhile, the Bloodwitch Aeduan is beset by forces he cannot understand. And Vivia—rightful queen of Nubrevna—finds herself without a crown or home.

As villains from legend reawaken across the Witchlands, only the mythical Cahr Awen can stop the gathering war. Iseult could embrace this power and heal the land, but first she must choose on which side of the shadows her destiny will lie.

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Two years after the release of Bloodwitch, book four in The Witchlands series, Witchshadow, is here. I have to admit that it got off to a rocky start for two reasons. The first is that I couldn't remember the events of the previous book. However, that was quickly resolved, because Dennard has kindly provided a summary here, which helped. The second reason is that the story switches from the past to the present. It was confusing and hard to follow at first, but once I got into the book it started to flow better. 

After that initial hurdle I was sucked into the story. We have multiple points of view again and as with any book with this there's going to be characters who you're more interested in than others. For me that's Iseult and Aeduan. Apparently the next book is the last in the series. If that's the case I really hope there's more scenes with Iseult and Aeduan together. There was not nearly enough of them in Witchshadow and their slow burn was torture!

Romance aside, we finally get answers to some burning questions and learn more about Leopold who I have been very intrigued about. Witchshadow is ultimately Iseult's book and she goes through a lot of growth. I've liked her from the start, so I didn't think it would be possible to love her anymore than I already do, but alas, Dennard made it so. She is, no doubt, my favourite character.

I can't wait for the next (and maybe last?) installment in the series!


Monday, 10 May 2021

Review: Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained
for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.

📌 Publication date: 09/11/2021
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I love Charlotte Bronte's, Jane Eyre, so, my interest was peeked when I read that Within These Wicked Walls was an Ethiopian inspired re-telling. Having now read it I would say it's a loose re-telling as Lauren Blackwood has made it her own. The story is about Andromeda, who is a debtera, someone whose job it is to expel the Evil Eye. She's hired to do such from an isolated house in the middle of the desert. 

Some books are just easy to fly through and Within these Wicked Walls is one of them. I was having so much fun reading it that I didn't realise what percentage of the way through I was, which is something I usually notice. The haunting descriptions create a gothic vibe, making this the perfect autumn/winter read. 

Andromeda is a feisty main character who isn't afraid to speak her mind. The romance between her and Magnus is very wholesome and cute, I enjoyed their banter. On the other hand, the father/daughter type relationship between is Andromeda and Jember is very complicated. Although it's not the healthiest relationship there were moments that filled me with awe.

You know when you finish a book feeling thoroughly satisfied? That's how I felt with Within These Wicked Walls. 


Monday, 12 April 2021

Review: The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

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📌 Publication date: 13/04/2021

It took me a while to finish The Prison Healer. The story is quite slow paced and  repetitive at times. The elemental trails Kiva had to face should have been thrilling, but ultimately they were a let down. Although the tasks were terrible, they felt rushed and there was no real sense of danger. This is because after the first one it was obvious, at least to me, what the outcome was going to be for the rest. 

While the story dragged at some points I still found it interesting enough to continue on. Kiva was a very easy main character to like. Throughout her ten years as a prisoner she endured many hardships at the hands of both the guards and prisoners alike. Yet she still held on to her selfless drive to care for and look after everyone. The Prison Healer deals with a lot of dark themes, so I would advise looking up content warnings. In terms of secondary characters, I loved Tipp, a young boy who helps Kiva with her healing duties. Their relationship was that of siblings and it was beautiful and heart breaking. 

I didn't care for the budding romance between Jaren and Kiva. The reason being that I found Jaren to be a cardboard cut out of a typical YA love interest. No personality expect the kindness he showed Kiva. There is, however, room for character development in the sequel when we see more of the world. 

I admit I was torn about whether I would be reading the sequel until the plot twist at the end. I honestly didn't see it coming and was shocked. That being said, it didn't really make sense to me. I can't say more without spoilers, but given that we were in Kiva's head the whole time it felt like she became a bit of an unreliable narrator. 

Overall, The Prison Healer was a decent read and I'm curious about the sequel given the plot twist at the end. 


Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all. 

📌 Publication date: 08/06/2021
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The Wolf and the Woodsman is a stunning standalone adult fantasy novel. The writing is haunting and beautiful in a way that is not flowery. However, be warned that it is not for the faint of heart, a list of content warnings can be found on the author's website here. If you're a fan of action packed stories then this might not be for you. Having said that although the first half of the book is spent travelling, it's not slow paced or boring. The enemies to lovers, slow burn romance between Evike and Gaspar is expertly crafted. Even when they arrive at their destination there's not a ton of action, yet it's still thoroughly engaging. The core of the book is about understanding the different nuances of culture, finding yourself, and rising up against oppression.